July 09, 2006

Growing, Growing, Gone...

Brian Alexander is one of my very favorite writers and after a book that really crossed over into the world of bioethics from journalism in a pathbreaking way, he went in a different direction for a while, and others, most recently Chris Mooney and other magazine essayists who make the top bloggers lists in Nature. Anyway he's back with a great essay - a story really - about the nutty attempts to prolong life and return youth with growth hormones:
The Life Extension Institute, founded in 1994, is built on a simple theory. Dr. Neal Rouzier, who owns a similar clinic in the same building as Chein's, once explained it this way: "Losing hormones is nature's way of helping us die." If we top them off to the levels of 25-year-olds, we will not only stay buff but extend our life spans.

It is growth hormone, along with testosterone and estrogen, to which the field of modern anti-aging medicine owes its existence. Chein, an early adopter of GH, believes in its magic so strongly that he has staked his living, and possibly his freedom, on promoting it. Inside his clinic, in a drab stucco-and-wood professional building within walking distance of the Palm Springs airport, hang a few photographs that explain why. Intended as visual testimonials, the images show an elderly couple posing like bodybuilders. She wears a bikini. He flexes on a podium, his butt cheeks proudly clenching a disturbingly bright blue thong. I wonder if it was fear of such displays that years ago led Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono to ban thong-wearing in public. But I get the message. No matter what my age, I can go back.

A week before my visit to the institute, I had received an e-mail relaying a glitch in my plan to talk with Chein. The California Medical Board had recently put him on five years' probation and, apparently wary of getting in deeper trouble, he would speak to me only if the following notice prefaced this article:

"This is not a paid advertisement. Everything expressed by Dr. Chein is strictly his personal opinion and is not meant to attract patients."

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